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Thursday, February 14, 2013

What to Say to Your Friends about Same-sex Marriage, Pt. 3 -- Jesus on Marriage

The first observation about Jesus and marriage that is often overlooked is Jesus never married.  This is significant for several reasons, the major one will be dealt with later.  But for now, let us just note that, for his time, to be a healthy man and single was considered loathsome.  On the face of it, such a person was willfully violating God's demand that humans procreate.  And Jesus would soon be at the age where peasant Palestinian men usually died, thus limiting his prospects for a family. He obviously opted out of the traditional family.  This could have something to do with the charge that he was a "drunk and glutton." Jesus as party animal.  He wouldn't be given the benefit of the doubt.

He even took up the habits of the similarly loathsome Cynics, well known throughout Galilee, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynicism_(philosophy) who had no visible means of support, lived off others, believed in "free love," and traveled in groups which included women.  I am not suggesting Jesus was a Cynic. I am saying that he easily could be accused of being one by his contemporaries.  Such was his disregard for the conventional way of living.

So, Jesus cannot be held up as the standard bearer for the Christian Right's notion that the ideal (Christian) man is married and the head of his household, with his subordinated wife and children trailing along behind. There is no place to go to for Jesus' example of a good husband.   And let's not appeal to the theological metaphor of Jesus as the bridegroom to the church-as-bride.  The marriage is not until after "the new heaven and new earth" is here, where "there will be no marriage or giving in marriage."  The most we can say is that Jesus had a very long engagement.  Marriage is a temporary, earthly institution in which Jesus did not participate.  Why that is the case is significant.

In an earlier post I mentioned that both Paul and Jesus thought marriage was not the ideal situation for Christians.  This passage from 1 Corinthians 7 sums up Paul's thoughts on the matter:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly towards his fiancé, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancé, he will do well. So then, he who marries his fiancé does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better. [Emphasis mine]
Paul would prefer that everyone be single, or behave as single, as he, himself, is.  For him, not marrying is the ideal for both men and women.

Jesus has a similar view, and this is likely why Paul felt the way he did.  Here is how Matthew reports Jesus' thoughts on the matter:
They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’
His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’  [Emphasis mine] Matthew 19:7-12
Both Paul and Jesus recognize that being single is very difficult, even impossible for some who would sin sexually otherwise.  So marriage is actually a lessor state than being single. Paul urges everyone to consider staying single, and Jesus urges anyone capable of living single to do so.

It is clear that whatever purposes marriage used to serve, in the Christian age it is for the purpose of allaying sexual sin.  For both Jesus and Paul, procreation has been set aside as a lessor value and both marriage and children are an encumbrance on spreading the gospel. Marriage is decidedly not the be all and end all of life that needs to be protected at all costs. It is a contingency for the time being that will not be found in the afterlife.  This explains why marriage was not emphasized from the beginning in Genesis and allowed to be culturally derived for millennia.  God has no particular stake in it, other than it be proscribed by the Golden Rule, as all relationships are to be guided.

So, you can see that allowing same-sex couples to marry is not so consequential that marriage cannot be adjusted to accommodate it, as marriage customs have changed to accommodate human need down through the millennia.  And LGBTs need marriage for all the same reasons that straight people need marriage. There are very few Jesuses and Pauls in our world.  For the rest of us, marriage is the answer.

Here's a video to mull over:


TOMORROW:  New series begins: What are opponents of same-sex marriage
afraid of?

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